What do you get when you mix a nature reserve and a military training facility? You get Brander Wald; a great place to stretch your legs and see an unexpected “tank graveyard;” something you normally don’t get to see up close and personal. Tanks in Germany, you ask? Yup.
A couple weeks ago we tried to visit Brander Wald near Aachen, Germany, but it was closed to the public (only open on the weekends and public holidays). Instead of walking along those paths that day, we ventured to the nearby town of Stolberg and had a great time.
But I was itching to check out Brander Wald so we could see these tanks in Germany for real.
As always, we got an early start and arrived at the parking lot around 9:30am—a perfect time; we were alone except for a few Germans walking their dogs.
By the time we made our way back it was significantly more crowded.
The paths are clear and for the most part they’re all well-paved, but keep in mind that it gets fairly steep in some places, so take heed if you’re pushing a stroller, walking with whiney kids, or have little ones who love to run as fast as they can (easy potential for stumbling and tumbling down).
But First, When Visiting Brander Wald…
First, and foremost, this is a military training area, and it needs to be observed as such. It may sounds strange when it’s simultaneously also a nature preserve, but the two go hand in hand now.
It’s been a training area for more than 80 years, and in 2005 it became a protected area because of its diverse ecosystem. Even the tanks are now “one” with the forest.
Since this is still an active area for the German military, if you see a red flag up anywhere, regardless of if it’s a weekend or a public holiday: LEAVE.
I read somewhere that the fines for being there during a red flag time, or during the hours specifically stated can result in a hefty fine.
Originally I assumed the tanks would be from WWII, but they’re actually from the next decade, in the early 1950s. Still, it was really neat to see some out in nature.
From what I’ve read, these tanks in Germany aren’t even German’ they’re actually American!
The M47 Patton and the M41 Walker Bulldog are American tanks that we essentially didn’t need anymore. Instead of scrapping all of them for parts, the German military ended up using them as “hard targets” at their training facilities around Germany.
I also read that they weren’t abandoned, but were strategically placed for training purposes (there’s one tank that totally seems like it was stuck there and not “placed,” but who knows).
About 10 minutes after you start walking, you’ll almost literally stumble upon your first set of tanks (we actually used our geocache maps to lead us to them, but we didn’t actually see any geocaches in the area).
There are three in that area—one right in front of you on the path, one just beyond that nestled in the trees, and then a third camouflaged, “stuck” in a pit behind that one.
You can tell these have been out in nature for quite some time. Rust, graffiti, and moss cover each tank, so be careful when climbing them.
The graffiti is to be expected, of course, but in full disclosure, since most of the words were in another language, I have no idea if they’re offensive (my apologies if they are).
The tank that appears to have been “stuck” made me stop for a minute and imagine just what it was doing (or could have been doing) when it actually got stuck there. Germany (and America) has so much history with war, that to see these giant war machines was humbling.
We may be smiling while standing on them, but the real implications of what they do is not lost on us.
If you continue on the path you’ll come across a large field in front of you.
Turn right and stroll down a gorgeous row of trees. I’d love to go back when they’re lush and green, or in the fall. Once the tree line ends you’ll see another tank.
This time it’s an American M47 Patton tank with the date 1952 embossed on it.
It’s just crazy how massive these machines are and what they’re capable of doing.
Be One with Nature
I know the kids were mostly interested in the tanks, for obvious reasons, but I really liked this nature reserve. We visited Brander Wald on the first day of Spring, but with the exception of seeing some birds, noticing some emerging buds on branches, and hearing a few woodpeckers, we didn’t see a lot of animals.
However, I can see the potential for more later in the spring/summertime. Frogs, snakes, butterflies, and even sheep roam freely here…or so says the info boards scattered around the reserve.
There are streams, soggy ground, and little ponds throughout the reserve.
Basic Info for Brander Wald
Where we parked
We parked at the Brander Wald Spielplatz parking lot (Birkenstraße 37, 52078 Aachen), and then let the kids play there once we finished our walk.
Alternatively, there is another parkplatz on the opposite side of where we were, so if you’re coming from that direction, it may be a further walk to see the tanks, but could be more convenient for you: Buschmühle 16, 52222 Stolberg.
This area open on the weekends and public holidays, and closed Monday—Friday from 7 am—17:00 (or when there’s a red flag).
Tanks in Germany
Have you seen any tanks in Germany before? Have you been here? What did you think?